Mark McDermott

El Segundo local launches ‘Bike to Surf’ campaign

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Cameron Brown biking to surf. Photo by Ryan Boyles

Cameron Brown biking to surf. Photo by Ryan Boyles

Like most surfers, Cameron Brown had a prowling habit.

Most mornings he rose early, jumped in his car and headed towards the water. He kept his surfboards, wetsuits, wax in his vehicle. As he drove up and over the Grand Street hill down towards the ocean, he’d already be scanning the horizon for waves. Brown cruised up and down the beach looking for what he called “My wave addiction.” His favorite break is El Porto, and he’d often drive there to check for waves several timesa day. He was so passionate about this habit he even started a blog called “MyWaveAddiction.com.” But in early February, Brown had a realization that changed everything.

“I live five minutes away from my local break, yet I drive there to check the waves on most days, sometimes multiple times per day, emitting greenhouse gases, which are harmful to our oceans each time.And I’ve been doing this since I was old enough to drive,” Brown wrote in a blog post February 10. “Sounding familiar?”

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The post was titled, “Why I Will Bike to Surf for One Year.” It was the surfer’s manifesto for getting out of his car and hopefully out of a cycle of habit that has noxious impacts on the specific environment Brown loves more than anything else — the ocean. His way of holding himself accountable to his pledge to not drive by car to a single wave for the next 12 months.

Not long ago, this notion would have been unfathomable to Brown. Much of his life has been devoted to the hunt for waves. Brown, 24, is an El Segundo native and 2012 graduate of San Diego State University. He spent two years after college travelling to six countries in three  hemispheres looking for waves. Back in El Segundo, he slipped happily back into his surf routine.

But in early February he ran across an article on TheInertia.com site by surf writer Tim Baker titled “An Open Letter to Surf Magazine Editors of the World.” Baker questioned the environmental ethics of the entire surf industry and the media who cover it.

“Having a credible, independent surf media seems to me necessary to have any meaningful discussion of environmental issues, surfboard design, the ethical considerations of travel to often remote and fragile third world destinations, the influence the surf industry wields and how responsibly or otherwise they wield that influence,” Baker wrote.

Brown had been oblivious to the environmental impact of surfing and immediately dug into research. Among other things, he found a document written by a researcher named Nick Power called “A Surfer’s Guide to Sustainability” that was scathing in its assessment.

“Surfboards and wetsuits are made from refined petrol, surf apparel is manufactured overseas with conventionally grown cotton, and surf trips use thousands of liters of petrol purely for a change of scenery and the possibility of a better wave,” Power wrote. “The lifestyle and products involved with surfing are responsible for Greenhouse-gas emissions, toxic chemicals that contribute to air and water pollution, and non-biodegradable materials that crowd landfills. The proximity of peak oil and climate change will certainly impact surfers.”

Cameron Brown. Photo by Diogo d'Orey

Cameron Brown. Photo by Diogo d’Orey

It all hit home for Brown. On February 9, he made the difficult decision that he’d quit driving to surf for a full year.

“I just realized I knew very little about the sustainability of the current state of surfing culture and industry,” he said. “I was a little disappointed in myself, like I wasn’t paying attention. One of the things I found is emissions are one of the worst things in terms of effects on the environment. A majority of surfers around the world live within biking distance to a beach, but we all tend to drive a majority of the time.”

“So I thought, ‘Why don’t I make a statement — for one year not to drive to go surf?’ And kind of talk about the experience, for a number of reasons,” Brown said. “Just to give other surfers an idea what it’s like. It’s a life changer. It’s a lot less convenient, and it does affect the amount of time you are able to surf.”

Brown has been biking to surf for a little over a month now. He’s become more intimately familiar with the Grand Street hill and he’s found some unexpected benefits. He’s warmed up by the time he hits the waves and he’s more mobile once he gets to the beach because he can roam up and down the bike path and not be tethered to where he parks.

“I no longer need to worry about parking on the weekends, and I also don’t need to worry about quarters for parking or parking tickets. It also gives me freedom to get away from the crowds.”

He had planned on taking surf trips to Portugal and Morocco this year, but instead is going to head to the northernmost border of California and bicycle and surf his way down the coast. He’s planning this adventure for September, and intends to write about it all along the way — with hopes of also rallying fellow surfers around a “Zero Emissions Day” to mirror the international Zero Carbon Day while makes his journey south.

Brown’s intentions are not grand. He doesn’t expect to change the world by his actions, but he’s hopeful that the changes he is making will make such changes seem more possible for others.

“We are connected to the ocean,” he said. “I find that surfers, including myself, are kind of the first ones to admit the fact that we care about the environment but we don’t put our money where our mouth is. We sometimes don’t make changes in our life that reflect us. At the end of the day, we do care, and kind of lead change in some ways. But all this driving at the beach, most people don’t think about it as harming our own playground. But we do it each time we get in our car.”

Craig Cadwallader, chair of the South Bay chapter of the environmental activist group Surfrider, said Brown’s “Bike to Surf” campaign is particularly appropriate after the recent defeat of Measure O in Hermosa Beach — a campaign that kept an oil drilling ban intact and that activated many local surfers to protect their local environment.

“What he’s doing is very timely,” Cadwallader said. “A whole bunch of people got active and and wondering what is next.”

Cadwallader noted that the Blue Zones movement sponsored locally by the Beach Cities Health District fits well with Brown’s mission, as it promotes a more active way of living and in concert with groups like the South Bay Bicycle Coalition has paved the way to making local streets more bike-friendly. But he said the beaches are lagging behind — there’s no way for surfers biking to the beach to secure their belongings while they in the water if they have no car nearby. He suggested some kind of storage system could be provided for surfers trying to shed their cars.

Cadwallader also said that surfers need to reexamine the the industry they support, and look for more sustainable equipment. “You are against polystyrene, yet you are riding on it,” he said. “That’s an issue. But there are people pioneering more sustainability in surfing, trying to balance out that inconsistency.”

Cadwallader said Brown could become one of those pioneers through his simple commitment to bike to surf.

“I give him kudos,” Cadwallader said. “He’s walking the walk, riding the bike, not just talking the talk. I admire that.”

For more information, see mywaveadditiion.com.

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